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We know you’ve heard it before, but Texas is big … really BIG. 268,597 square miles in fact; an area which is bigger than Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands combined!!
Texas is known for being so big and diverse that it’s practically its own country; a state which combines cowboys and country culture with glossy urban landscapes and sprawling city life, and one blessed with thousands of kilometers of rugged, gorgeous terrain.
The sheer diversity of the state means there are bound to be hidden gems which even locals haven’t heard of before. With such a wide swath of human experience on offer, visiting every corner of Texas would take months, if not years to explore!
Though for those who only have a couple of days to a week, the following are some of our favorite nooks and crannies; home to the most incredible hidden gems in the State.
Texas’ Hidden Gems: Secret Places You Should Know About Before Your Next Trip
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Take an African Safari
If you’re looking for things to do in San Antonio that are off the beaten path, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch has you covered. Here, amid the Texas desert, you can take an African safari!
Unlike most open range zoos which offer ranger led safari tours, you get to enjoy this zoo in the comfort of your own personal vehicle. See rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and other African wildlife as well as other exotic species from around the world.
You are even given food to feed the animals and animals like zebras and emus often come right up to the cars and poke their heads through the windows!
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is especially focused on Giraffe conservation, and their mission is to create a space where giraffes are protected and preserved in their natural habitats.
With a population of 1178, there’s no doubt that Lexington is a small town. But in the center of Texas’ barbecue belt, if you’re a fan of pulled pork, fatty brisket, or tender ribs, this is the place to be!
For foodies obsessed with slow-smoked goodness, Texas Monthly has named Snow’s BBQ as the best in the State. And Snow’s (female) pitmaster has become a bit of a legend as well. Tip: On Saturday’s they open 8 am and usually sell out of ribs by noon.
An hour drive from Austin, many residents of Lexington make the commute to the city each day, but you can bet they’re all home before dinner!
Palo Duro Canyon
The Grand Canyon may pull in some 4.5 million tourists a year, though the second largest canyon in the US lies in the heart of the Texas Panhandle … and few people know it’s even there!
Known as the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon is just as stunning as it’s Arizona rival … offering landscapes which are equally as powerful and inspiring, though minus the mass tourism and claustrophobic crowds.
The canyon can be explored by foot, mountain bike, horse, or car, and there are more than 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails which offer stunning vistas and spectacular views.
You can camp (there are sites with water and electricity), geocache, study nature or bird watch. Or if you’re after more comfortable accommodations there are three cabins on the canyon’s rim, and four limited service cabins on the canyon floor.
A stunning pedestrian community offering visitors a taste of the genteel culture of the Old South, Jefferson is a beautiful, historic town just an hour west of Louisiana. Offering an intimate riverfront setting in East Texas, this is the perfect spot for a weekend get-a-way, intimate honeymoon, romantic wedding, or a family day trip from the surrounding region.
Nestled between Caddo Lake and Lake O’ the Pines, a great way to experience Jefferson is by jumping on a historic river boat tour. Lined by incredible cypress trees and Spanish moss, Caddo Lake is rich in wildlife, from alligators, bobcats and coyotes, to all kinds of birds nesting in the trees. There is a beautiful water garden of bayous, lotuses and water lilies, and you can take both day and night tours of the swamp.
Lake O’ the Pines is a popular destination for water sports, and on any given day you can spot sailboats, ski boats and other water craft in the open water. It has fantastic camping nature trails, beaches and other recreational areas, and a range of homes, restaurants and boat marinas by the shore.
Terlingua Ghost Town
An abandoned quicksilver mining town surrounded by the Big Bend parks, if it’s the Old West feel you’re craving, Terlingua will do the trick! More off the beaten path than some of West Texas’ better known towns like Marfa, this is a small community of desert denizens accessible by Highway 118 heading west out of Big Bend National Park, or by traveling south on 118 from Alpine.
Most afternoons you can see the Santa Fe de Los Pinos mountain range over 80 miles south in Mexico, and of course such local landmarks as the Chisos Mountains and Mule Ears peaks. There’s a trading company/gift shop, art galleries, unique lodging options, restaurants, and one of the kookiest bars you’ve ever seen.
Host to the famous championship chili cook off in 1967, this has since become an annual event which draws over 10,000 “chili heads” from all over the world on the first Saturday every November. There is another ghost town just 30 minutes from Terlingua in a town called Lajitas located next to the Rio Grande.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Once the shoreline of an ancient ocean which existed 113 million years ago, the Dinosaurs which roamed the area left their footprints in the mud. And while the ocean has since disappeared, the footprints remain, and today you can walk in these tracks in the bed of the Paluxy River.
The park is a National Natural Landmark, and is a lot less known than Texas’s other parks like Big Bend. You can find dinosaur tracks, camp, picnic, hike, mountain bike, swim and fish in the river, watch for wildlife, look for a geocache, ride your horse, or visit the interpretive center.
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Photo credits: Featured by Kimberly Vardeman. Biking Palo Duro Canyon by Martin Konopacki. Cadoo lake by Omar Bárcena. Swamp Alligator by Mapping Megan. Terlingua Ghost Town by alex de carvalho.
What fantastic tips! I’ve not been to Texas yet, but obviously need to go…
Thanks Jessie! Glad you enjoyed the post :) Highly recommend a trip to Texas … or two! There’s a lot of fantastic spots to get to!
Wow, there are some great options listed here!! Thanks for sharing.
A trip to Dinosaur Valley State Park looks like a good option -with archaeology meeting camping.
Dinosaur Valley State Park is a great option if you’re interested in archaeology :) So much to explore and uncover down there!
I knew that Texas was big but not that it was quite this huge! One of the biggest things that draws me to the US is all the Wild West history and ghost towns, so it looks like Texas could be a good destination for me.
Crazy how big it actually is right!! If you’re into Wild West history and ghost towns, Texas is definitely your place! Hope you have the chance to travel soon :)
Nice article, but it’s missing SO much… could’ve consulted some Texans before publishing this.
Glad you enjoyed the article Diego :) As we said, Texas is huge! I’m sure there are hundreds of amazing spots we couldn’t cover … feel free to suggest any of your favorites you would recommend :)
I want to go visit it all. Texas is on my list (near the top). BUTTTTTTT OMG Terlingua Ghost Town!!!!!! That is on my must visit list.
Hope you have the chance to visit this year! :)
My eyes cant stop starring at the Palo Duro Canyon great outdoor place to explore hiking and biking and beautiful views!
Isn’t it beautiful! Hard to believe it doesn’t receive half of the Grand Canyon acclaim!
i would love to go in Texas… its an adventure travel that i wanna live.. I definitely pin this post, you have some great tips :-)
Thanks for pinning the post Hra! Hope you have the chance to live the Texas adventure at some stage soon!
I spent some time in Texas a few years back and loved it. So kitsch in so many ways but so cool. I’m really not a big fan of American food but I love the Texan bbq food. Such flavour in slow cooking – I can almost taste the ribs and brisket now!! It was great fun seeing all the oil wells (I;d only seen them on tv and wasn’t sure if it was really true). Survived a massive typhoon too :) And by the way, I’m loving those cowboy boots. I have a pair I bought in Texas but I love the green!!
So glad you had a wonderful time in Texas Kerri! It really is a whole other world as far as the rest of the States is concerned – and especially when it comes to cuisine. I agree, I’m not so taken by American food culture in general, but I’ll eat Texan BBQ any day of the week!
So glad you survived the Typhoon … how crazy!!!
In Europe, we always tend to relate Texas to deserts, cactus and endless desertic roads but then, we come across with these pictures and we just can’t believe how amazing Texas is. The Palo Duro Canyon is stunning and I the Jefferson park is incredibly beautiful. I like the picture of the alligator, I hope you used some powerful lens, otherwise, you would be too close!
I’m glad we could change your perception by showing just how diverse the State truly is! Granted, you’re not alone, I think many people even in other parts of the US have the same image in their head of a barren desert land.
Palo Duro Canyon really is such a stunning area, haha and baby alligators can’t do too much damage so we didn’t mind getting in a little close :D
It is quite impressive how much distance you covered in the great state of Texas. You are so right just how much there is to discover. I went to graduate school in Texas and did not know most of the places you mentioned. Dinosaur Valley State Park sounds like a great place to explore. Perhaps on my next trip to Texas. You are right about the heat…hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are all indispensable!! What was your favorite place to visit in Texas?
Favorite place would definitely be Palo Duro Canyon … we’re big nature enthusiasts and love outdoor adventure, so this is a mecca for that!
Looks like a great place to hang out on my bike. Especially around the canyon.
Absolutely Gokul … Palo Duro Canyon is an amazing playground with a bike! Happy travels :)
I mean I knew Texas was big but when you say “bigger than Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands combined!!” WOW. That really puts it into perspective. Along with bigger cities like San Antonio and Austin, I’d love to visit that ghost town. Thanks for sharing )
Really does put it into perspective right!! Hope you have the chance to plan a trip to Texas soon!
Texas is a state I haven’t made it out to yet! I’ve always wanted to go to Austin. But there’s so much cool stuff in this giant state!
Hope you have the chance to plan a trip soon … recommend planning a long one :D!
It’s interesting to hear that many residents make the commute. It’s nice that Austin is nearby enough so that they can make it home for dinner.
Absolutely Christina :) Nice to have a balance with Lexington of small town living while still being close enough to access jobs in the city :)
I always wanted to visit a Palo Duro Canyon. It has stunning colors and I am sure that the experience would be well worth the trip.
I am sure that camping under the clear skies there will fulfill me.. Really want to visit that place and soon as I get some free time that’s where I am going!
Palo Duro Canyon is definitely well worth the trip :) Hope you have the chance to visit soon, and incorporate some camping too!
Happy travels :)
Thanks for sharing all of these must-sees in Texas. It’s such a fun state with so much to do and see!
You’re welcome McKenzie! Glad you enjoyed the post :)
Stunning images. I plan on checking out Terlingua Ghost Town soon. I might go this summer if I don’t go to North Carolina.
Glad you enjoyed the post Drew :) Regardless of which destination you choose, enjoy your trip!
I love you writing and I will visit to enjoy my next summer Thanks for sharing!
So glad you enjoyed the post Suman :) Happy travels!
Looking forward to exploring Texas again soon with the family!
Hope you have a fabulous trip!